Crypto sceptics look to bend the ear of regulators at inaugural event this week

The conference comes as the price of Bitcoin plunged to around US$20,000. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - Cryptocurrency critics, including economists and researchers, will gather in London and online this week to get their message across to regulators about the booming but volatile sector.

A number of governments have expressed concerns over cryptocurrencies, but those behind the first Crypto Policy Symposium say they hope the event will prompt much more "critical discourse" of the sector.

"There are so many crypto conferences, but they are funded by the crypto industry," said Mr Martin Walker, a co-organiser.

"The goal is to dispel some myths created by the crypto industry and to make policymakers start asking the right questions."

But Mr Walker, a banking IT expert, is quick to reject claims that the event, scheduled to take place from Sept 5 to 6, is an "anti-crypto conference".

Instead, he says it is a chance to hear the critical voices of specialists in financial bubbles, researchers who have evaluated the industry's carbon footprint and engineers who question the effectiveness of decentralised technologies.

"We've got regulators from all over the world," he said.

About 1,000 people have signed up to watch the conference online and British officials are expected to attend a live event in London on Tuesday.

The conference comes as the price of Bitcoin has plunged from a peak of nearly US$69,000 last October to around US$20,000.

The risky nature of the ultra-volatile and poorly regulated market for retail investors will be particularly highlighted.

Uninformed users

Many central banks and financial market regulators have warned about the dangers posed by cryptocurrencies.

But in the absence of a clear legislative framework, users are rarely informed when making their investments, say crypto critics.

The collapse of crypto investment platform Celsius Network left customers in despair and unable to recover investments that sometimes included life savings.

The firm faced mounting troubles until it froze withdrawals in mid-June and a court filing showed that it owed US$4.7 billion (S$6.6 billion) to its users.

"People did not understand that their money was not secure and they still don't understand why they cannot get it back," said Ms Amy Castor, a respected freelance journalist who is among the most vocal of crypto critics.

"The problem is that cryptocurrency has become so big that now there is a lot of money going into lobbying... to support politicians," Ms Castor added.

Critic, not a hater

In the United States, some elected officials have proudly shown support for the sector, especially at the local level.

The mayors of Miami and New York have said they want to make their cities cryptocurrency capitals, and there are municipality-specific currency projects in various stages of development.

"Officials are making broad statements about the good of cryptocurrencies," said Ms Tonantzin Carmona, a researcher at the Brookings Institution.

"They focus on what good could come from that tech and they ignore the real risks."

In March, Ms Carmona published a research paper on the potential danger posed by the mayors' enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies.

She feared being attacked on social networks but instead says her arguments found favour with the small community of crypto sceptics, who helped her see that she was not a lone voice.

"There is a difference between being a hater and being critical," she said. AFP

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